Recently Read: “Intersectionality at the Reference Desk: Lived Experiences of Women of Color Librarians” by Rose L. Chou and Annie Pho

My work as a Diversity Resident Librarian has begun to pick up which is really exciting. Part of the increase in workload is the fact that I have committed to some research areas.

The first area that I want to explore involves updating a study done by Jesus Alonso-Regalado. His work “Librarian for Latin American and Caribbean Studies in U.S. Academic and Research Libraries: A Content Analysis of Position Announcements, 1970-2007” provides an image of what your “typical” Latin American Librarian looked like up until 2007 and what kinds of shifts in the job duties, hiring requirements, and other important criteria have happened in the profession. It is now 2019 and I am curious to see if any more formative shifts have taken place since this study was done, especially since the profession has started to welcome some younger librarians and the field of Area Studies continues to shift around.

My second research area is a bit more broad. I want to continue to look at equity, diversity and inclusion as it pertains to librarianship. I want to further explore the role diversity residencies play in solving the professions lack of diversity, and I want to continue to explore my experiences so far as a Puerto Rican Woman in this profession. For idea generation, I have begun to seek out literature that speaks to the lack of diversity in librarianship and came across “Intersectionality at the Reference Desk: Lived Experiences of Women of Color Librarians” by Rose L. Chou and Annie Pho and I was shocked by the experiences these Women of Color (WOC) shared with the authors.

Before I go into my thoughts and feelings, I first wanted to comment on the choice to use a feminist interviewing methodology. As I continue to delve into topics of race, ethnicity, gender, ability, etc. really understanding the nuance of different experiences and situations is important to the discussion of these topics. I also appreciated the thoughtfulness in relying heavily on direct quotes from the women interviewed to stress the importance and validity of these women’s experiences. No need to always cite a scholarly publication to validate someones lived experience, right?

Now onto my thoughts:

The experiences these women shared were frightening. As a non-white woman, it is horrifying to think that these kinds of situations could be in my future. Its disheartening to think that I might have to work 2x harder than my white peers to be taken seriously , but that being overly ambitious could be detrimental to my career. The pressure and reality of being the token Black WOC or Latina (or other identity) in the institution must be paralyzing. For me, this would be incredibly paralyzing because I am not the “stereotypical latina”. If people in my institution are wanting me to be representative of this massively diverse group of humans (their first mistake), they are going to be disappointed to find out that I don’t know all that much about most latinx subjects (who really can though, there is so much to know) and I am probably closer to them culturally than their idea of what latinx means! This wasn’t something mentioned in the piece, but for me, this would make me feel invalid. Like I am not really latina because I don’t fit the image these people expect from me.

There are also cultural differences which might be viewed as incompetence. One woman mentioned how she feels judged by her colleagues whenever she helped Latina students. She noted the cultural importance of talking and chatting before getting to the meat of a topic, something my Mexican-American has stressed the importance of as well. These kinds of cultural practices are important because they build trust with patrons and can make them feel more comfortable when they see a familiar cultural practice! So why is her competence being questioned for “taking too long”? That is ridiculous. In my personal institution, I don’t think this kind of cultural practice is a problem as things seem to be a bit less structured. But I do find the extra time need to be true.

With that said, this is something I find that my experience is reversed. I find myself feeling incompetent because I can’t do that whole social practice of small talk before getting to the main stuff with latinx students and faculty. Culturally, I have been exposed to this practice through my family, but it just never stuck. Maybe its my anxiety? Who knows. But in my position, I work with many latinx faculty and grad students and find this exchange uncomfortable. I struggle to do it. It is especially noticeable when my supervisor is comfortable with this cultural practice and I witness these interactions first-hand. I will say that watching my supervisor has helped a lot. There isn’t a formula to these types of interactions, but every time I can watch her do it, I feel comfortable knowing that I have an idea of what to do when it is my turn to engage.  On the hard days, it is easy to look at my supervisor and feel incompetent. But I try to remember that this is not a sign of incompetence. It is a skill that I am learning and I am not expected to master it on my first try! I thought this was an interesting divergence of experience.

Lastly, I just wanted to mention the fact the self-care was something mentioned as coping mechanisms to negative experiences. I thought this was such an important contribution to the literature. As someone with anxiety and depression, it is important to discuss mental health in the workplace. While the authors focused on self-care and the ways negative experiences can have a negative impact on the mental health of these women, I want to add how mental health can play a role in exacerbating some of the issues we face. It is a fine line between the microaggressions and negative experiences causing anxiety and depression, and how pre-existing anxiety and depression can make it even more difficult to face these negative experiences.

Ultimately, this article allowed me to do some self-reflection in regards to my place in the library as a non-white, cisgender woman who suffers from anxiety and depression. I read the experiences shared and wondered the likelihood that I would experience similar situations to those listed here. I also wondered how the nuances of my identity would change the likelihood of these experiences happening to me (i.e. very light skin, no accent, straight, culturally pretty “american, etc.”) The only thing I do know for sure is that every single WOC and POC in librarianship will have a different experience, or different feelings about similar experiences, and these are all valid.

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